October 15, 2012—Boston, MA (LifeSiteNews) – Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley is urging Massachusetts voters to oppose a ballot measure aimed at legalizing physician-assisted suicide. In an opinion piece for The Boston Pilot October 12, the cardinal asked voters to consider the long-term ramifications of the proposed law, which will appear on the ballot in November as Question 2, calling it the beginning of a “slippery slope.”
O’Malley pointed out that there is widespread concern in the disability advocacy and medical communities that Question 2 “not only would be harmful in itself, but could lead to unintended tragic outcomes,” as has happened in other places where assisted suicide has been legalized.
While “asserting that something could happen is not the same as stating that something will happen,” wrote O’Malley, “common sense allows reasonable people to judge the likelihood that a sequence of events that have happened in one place are likely to happen in another place in a similar way.”
As written, the cardinal said, Question 2 could lead to adoption of “quality of life” standards, putting the mentally ill and the disabled at risk of being targeted for assisted suicide, and perhaps eventually, for euthanasia. He said the disabled and their advocates “fear that misunderstandings and false compassion could result in their being considered ‘better off dead,’ devalued, and treated as second class citizens in respect to their medical care.”
He also expressed concern that the law might push up suicide rates in general, and that it would pave the way for an “unscrupulous heir or indifferent family member [to pressure] a sick person, either directly or in subtle ways, to end his or her life.”
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The cardinal also cautioned that the law could lead to lower quality end-of-life care for everyone. Doctors’ and nurses’ groups, he wrote, worry that “efforts to enhance hospice and palliative care will be weakened if a ‘lazy’ path to end-of-life care like physician-assisted-suicide is chosen by voters.” Specifically, “they share grave concerns that medical cost-containment pressures will lead to a preference for a $100 prescription for lethal drugs over more expensive treatments.”
The cardinal quoted Dr. Leon Kass, former chair of the President’s Council on Bioethics, who asked: “Will doctors be able to care wholeheartedly for patients when it is always possible to think of killing them as a ‘therapeutic option?’”
The American Medical Association (AMA) and the Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) have come out strongly against Question 2 over concerns about how it would alter the patient-physician relationship. The AMA has described the practice of assisted suicide as “fundamentally inconsistent with the physician’s role as healer.”
Dr. Britain Nicholson, chief medical officer at Massachusetts General Hospital, told The Boston Globe that care providers at Partners HealthCare have already begun meeting to discuss the initiative and investigate options should the question become law, including what programs might have to be put in place to refer patients if doctors do not want to offer the prescription.
Citing the case of the Netherlands, Cardinal O’Malley also said legalizing assisted suicide has the potential to pave the way for voluntary, and then involuntary euthanasia, in which a doctor directly kills a patient without his or her explicit consent.
Cardinal O’Malley referred voters to a website sponsored by the Archdiocese of Boston that presents Catholic teachings on end of life issues, SuicideIsAlwaysATragedy.org. He also gave a link to another site, www.StopAssistedSuicide.org, run by a multi-faith coalition of religious leaders, medical professionals, and disabilities rights groups that oppose Question 2.
According to polls, the assisted suicide measure has the support of between 50% and 60% of Massachusetts voters.